What About Me?
When we act as a consumer in our marriages, we feel a sense of entitlement to look good, feel good, be right, and be in control. We position ourselves in our relationship to get what we want. And if things don’t turn out the way we feel they should, we want to make our spouse pay until it does.
Time after time I hear people say things like this:
“He doesn’t make me feel sexy.”
“I don’t feel appreciated.”
“She never listens to me.”
“He’s always spending his free time with his buddies.”
These statements are clear signs of entitlement. When we are aware of and begin to question those self-seeking desires, we can begin to free ourselves from fear and selfishness. The possibility of truly loving our spouse, or what I like to call “othering,” emerges.
I borrow the term “othering” from Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, who writes in his book The Covenanted Self, “I take the liberty of using the word ‘other’ as a verb, for I mean to suggest that ‘other’ is not simply a counter-object, but it is the risky, demanding, dynamic process of relating to one who is not us . . . ”
Dr. Brueggemann is speaking of the manner in which we relate to God, but this term aptly applies to how we relate to all others, particularly our spouse. Othering is simply loving your spouse by willing their good. While the consumer society tells us that we can only learn to love others if we love ourselves first, othering suggests that we love ourselves best when we love the other first. This is a principle that guides a kingdom marriage.
The challenge of othering lies in the possibility of suffering. Willing the good of our spouse often puts us in a vulnerable place because they are free to hurt us as much as they are free to love us. Our spouse is free to use us, abandon us, manipulate us, betray us, lie to us, and so on. It’s awful to even think about.
So what do most of us do? We instinctively want to protect ourselves from the risks of being in relationship with the other. We want to keep our marriage about ourselves as much as we can. It’s the only way we can survive and make sure our spouse doesn’t rob us of what we feel we are entitled to.
There are three basic strategies we employ to do this. We hide, we blame, and we attack.
Hide. Adam and Eve did this in the garden after they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. Hiding is another form of covering up. Feeling ashamed, Adam and Eve covered up their nakedness with leaves. We hide what we think others will judge and use for themselves. For instance, if we did something wrong that may put our spouse’s view of us at stake, we cover up the mistake.
Blame. We blame God and others much like Adam did when he told God, “It’s Your fault I sinned. You are the one who gave me the woman who caused me to stumble.” We place the reasons for our failures on God, our spouse, or our circumstances. We can even blame ourselves and hide in our guilt so we don’t have to face the pain we may have caused others.
Attack. We attack our spouse much like Satan attacked God when he accused God of being a liar by withholding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil from Adam and Eve. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “The best offense is a great defense.” By launching an all-out assault on our spouse’s character with such generalizations as “you always” and “you never,” we think we can distract or keep them from taking whatever we feel entitled to. We can attack through sarcasm, name-calling, and threatening violence.
C. S. Lewis captures this reality in his book The Four Loves:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy … is damnation. The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness.”
To other is to be vulnerable and to be honest with ourselves and our spouse about who we are and what lies underneath the facade of our defenses. Just as Jesus said the truth would set us free, exposing the truth of ourselves and our needs brings us a step closer to the freedom of experiencing a transformational marriage.
This article was excerpted from Us, © 2010 by Dan Tocchini. Published by David C. Cook, www.davidccook.com. Used by permission. All rights reserved.